Mines and Mining

Since writing the connected story which has thus far appeared, I turn back to give some incidents of life in the mines, and some description of those pioneer gold days.

I have spoken of Moore’s Flat, Orleans Flat and Woolsey’s Flat, all similarly situated on different points of the mountain, on the north side of the ridge between the South and Middle Yuba River, and all at about the same altitude. A very deep cañon lies between each of them, but a good mountain road was built around the head of each cañon, connecting the towns. When the snow got to be three or four feet deep the roads must be broken out and communication opened, and the boys used to turn out en masse and each one would take his turn in leading the army of road breakers. When the leader got tired out some one would take his place, for it was terrible hard work to wade through snow up to one’s hips, and the progress very slow. But the boys went at it as if they were going to a picnic, and a sort of picnic it was when they reached the next town, for whisky was free and grub plenty to such a party, and jollity and fun the uppermost thoughts. On one such occasion when the crowd came through Orleans Flat to Moore’s Flat, Sid Hunt, the butcher, was in the lead as they came in sight of the latter place, and both he and his followers talked pretty loud and rough to the Moore’s Flat fellows calling them “lazy pups” for not getting their road clear. Hunt’s helper was a big stout, loud talking young man named Williams, and he shouted to the leader–“Sid Hunt, toot your horn if you don’t sell a clam.” This seemed to put both sides in good humor, and the Orleans fellows joined in a plenty to eat and drink, rested and went home. Next day, both camps joined forces and broke the road over to Woolsey’s Flat, and the third day crowded on toward Nevada City, and when out and across Bloody Run, a stream called thus because some dead men had been found at the head of the stream by the early settlers, and it was suspected the guilty murderers lived not far off, they turned down into Humbug, a town now called Bloomfield, and as they went down the snow was not so deep. They soon met Sam Henry, the express man, working through with letters and papers, and all turned home again.

A young doctor came to Moore’s Flat and soon became quite popular, and after a little while purchased a small drug store at Orleans Flat. In this town there lived a man and his family and among them a little curly headed girl perhaps one or two years old. She was sick and died and buried while the ground was covered thick with snow. A little time after, it was discovered that the grave had been disturbed, and on examination no body was found in the grave.

Then it was a searching party was organized, and threats of vengeance made against the grave robber if he should be caught. No tracks were found leading out of town so they began to look about inside, and there began to be some talk about this Dr. Kittridge as the culprit. He was the very man, and he went to his drug store and told his clerk to get a saddle horse and take the dead child’s body in a sack to his cabin at Moore’s Flat, and conceal it in a back room. The clerk obeyed, and with the little corpse before him on the horse started from the back door and rode furiously to Moore’s Flat, and concealed the body as he had been directed.

Some noticed that he had ridden unusually fast, and having a suspicion that all was not right, told their belief to the Orleans Flat people, who visited the Doctor at his store and accused him of the crime, and talked about hanging him on the spot without a trial. At this the Doctor began to be greatly frightened and begged piteously for them to spare his life, confessing to the deed, but pleading in extenuation that it was for the purpose of confirming a question in his profession, and wholly in the interest of science that he did it, and really to spare the feelings of the parents that he did it secretly. He argued that no real harm had been done, and some of his friends sided with him in this view. But the controversy grew warmer, and the house filled up with people. Some were bloodthirsty and needed no urging to proceed to buy a rope and use it. Others argued, and finally the Doctor said that the body had not been dissected, and if they would allow him, and appoint a committee to go with him, he would produce the body, and they could decently bury it again and there it might remain forever. This he promised to do, and all agreed to it, and he kept his word, thus ending the matter satisfactorily and the Doctor was released. But the feeling never died out. The Doctor’s friends deserted him, and no one seemed to like to converse with him. At the saloon he would sit like a perfect stranger, no one noticing him, and he soon left for new fields.

The first tunnel run at Moore’s Flat was called the Paradise, and had to be started low on the side of the mountain in order to drain the ground, and had to be blasted through the bed rock for about 200 feet.

Four of us secured ground enough by purchase so we could afford to undertake this expensive job and we worked on it day and night. Jerry Clark and Len Redfield worked the day shifts, and Sam King and Wm. Quirk the night shift. When the tunnel was completed about 100 feet, the night shift had driven forward the top of the tunnel as a heading, leaving the bottom, which was about a foot thick, or more, to be taken out by the day shift. They drilled a hole about two feet horizontally to blast out this bench. King would sit and hold the drill between his feet, while Quirk would strike with a heavy sledge. When the hole was loaded they tramped down the charge very hard so as to be sure it would not blow out, but lift the whole bench. One day when they were loading a hole, King told Quirk to come down pretty heavy on the tamping, so as to make all sure, and after a few blows given as directed, there was an explosion, and Quirk was forced some distance out of the tunnel, his eyes nearly put out with dirt blown into them, and his face and body cut with flying pieces of rock. He was at first completely stunned, but after awhile recovered so as to crawl out, and was slowly making his way up the hill on hands and knees when he was discovered and helped to his cabin where his wounds were washed and dressed.

Then a party with lighted candles entered the tunnel to learn the fate of King, and they found him lying on the mass of rock the blast had lifted, dead. On a piece of board they bore the body to his cabin. There was hardly a whole bone remaining. A cut diagonally across his face, made by a sharp stone, had nearly cut his head in two. He had been thrown so violently against the roof of the tunnel, about 6 feet high, that he was completely mashed.

He had a wife in Mass. and as I had often heard him talk of her, and of sending her money, I bought a $100 check and sent it in the same letter which bore the melancholy news. King had a claim at Chip’s Flat which he believed would be very rich in time, so I kept his interest up in it till it amounted to $500 and then abandoned the claim and pocketed the loss.

We made a pine box, and putting his body in it, laid it away with respect. I had often heard him say that if he suffered an accident, he wished to be killed outright and not be left a cripple, and his wish came true.

After this accident the blacksmith working for the Paradise Co., was making some repairs about the surface of the air shaft, and among his tools was a bar of steel an inch square, and 8 or 10 feet long, which was thrown across the shaft, and while working at the whim wheel he slipped and struck this bar which fell to the bottom of the shaft, 100 feet deep and the blacksmith followed. When the other workmen went down to his assistance they found that the bar of steel had stuck upright in the bottom of the shaft, and when the man came down it pierced his body from hip to neck, killing him instantly. He was a young man, and I have forgotten his name.

Those who came to California these later years will not many of them see the old apparatus and appliances which were used in saving the gold in those primitive days. Among them was the old “Rocker.” This had a bottom about 5 feet long and 16 inches wide, with the sides about 8 inches high for half the length, and then sloped off to two inches at the end. There was a bar about an inch high across the end to serve as a riffle, and on the higher end of this box is a stationary box 14 inches square, with sides 4 inches high and having a sheet iron bottom perforated with half inch holes. On the bottom of the box are fastened two rockers like those on the baby cradle, and the whole had a piece of board or other solid foundation to stand on, the whole being set at an angle to allow the gravel to work off at the lower end with the water. A cleat was fastened across the bottom to catch the gold, and this was frequently examined to see how the work was paying, and taking out such coarse pieces as could be readily seen. To work the rocker a pan of dirt would be placed in the square screen box, and then with one hand the miner would rock the cradle while he poured water with the other from a dipper to wash the earth. After he had poured on enough water and shaken the box sufficiently to pass all the small stuff through he would stir over what remained in the screen box, examining carefully for a nugget too large to pass through the half inch holes. If the miner found that the dirt did not pay he took his rocker on his back and went on in search of a better claim.

Another way to work the dirt was to get a small head of water running in a ditch, and then run the water and gravel through a series of boxes a foot square and twelve feet long, using from one to ten boxes as circumstances seemed to indicate. At the lower end of these boxes was placed the “Long Tom” which was about two feet wide at the lower end, and having sides six inches high at the same point. The side pieces extend out about 3 feet longer than the wooden bottom, and are turned up to a point, some like a sled runner, and this turned up part has a bottom of sheet iron punched full of holes, the size of the sheet iron being about 3 feet by 16 inches.

The miners shovel dirt into the upper end of the boxes slowly, and regulate the water so that it dissolves the lumps and chunks very thoroughly before it reaches the long tom where a man stands and stirs the gravel over, and if nothing yellow is seen throws the washed gravel away, and lets the rest go through the screen. Immediately below this screen was placed what was called a “riffle box,” 2 by 4 feet in size with bars 4 inches high across the bottom and sides, and this box is set at the proper angle. Now when the water comes through the screen it falls perpendicularly in this box with force enough to keep the contents continually in motion, and as the gold is much heavier than any other mineral likely to be found in the dirt, it settles to the bottom, and all the lighter stuff is carried away by the water. The gold would be found behind the bars in the riffle box.

These methods of working were very crude, and we gradually became aware that the finest dust was not saved, and many improvements were brought into use. In my own mine the tailings that we let go down the mountain side would lodge in large piles in different places, and after lying a year, more gold could be washed out of it than was first obtained, and some of it coarser, so that it was plainly seen that a better way of working would be more profitable. There was plenty of ground called poor ground that had much gold in it but could not be profitably worked with the rocker and long tom. The bed rock was nearly level and as the land had a gradual rise, the banks kept getting higher and higher as they dug farther in. Now it was really good ground only down close to the bed rock, but all the dirt had some gold in it, and if a way could be invented to work it fast enough, such ground would pay. So the plan of hydraulic mining was experimented upon.

The water was brought in a ditch or flume to the top of a high bank, and then terminated in a tight box. To this box was attached a large hose made by hand out of canvas, and a pipe and nozzle attached to the lower end of the hose. Now as the bank was often 100 feet or more high the water at this head, when directed through the nozzle against the bank, fairly melted it away into liquid mud. Imagine us located a mile above the river on the side of a mountain. We dug at first sluices in the rock to carry off the mud and water, and after it had flowed in these a little way a sluice box was put in to pass it through. These were made on a slope of one in twelve, and the bottom paved with blocks, 3 inches thick, so laid as to make a cavity or pocket at the corner of the blocks. After passing the first sluice box the water and gravel would be run in a bed rock sluice again, and then into another sluice box and so on for a mile, passing through several sluice boxes on the way. Quicksilver was placed in the upper sluice boxes, and when the particles of gold were polished up by tumbling about in the gravel, they combined with the quicksilver making an amalgam.

The most gold would be left in the first sluice boxes but some would go on down to the very last, where the water and dirt was run off into the river. They cleaned up the first sluices every week, a little farther down every month, while the lower ones would only be cleaned up at the end of the season.

In cleaning up, the blocks would be taken out of the boxes, and every little crevice or pocket in the whole length of the sluice cleaned out, from the bottom to the top, using little hooks and iron spoons made for the purpose.

The amalgam thus collected was heated in a retort which expelled the quicksilver in vapor, which was condensed and used again.

When they first tried hydraulic work a tinsmith made a nozzle out of sheet iron, but when put in practice, instead of throwing a solid stream, it scattered like an shotgun, and up at Moore’s Flat they called the claims where they used it the “shotgun” claims.

From that time great improvements were made in hydraulic apparatus until the work done by them was really wonderful.

In 1850 there lived at Orleans Flat and Moore’s Flat, in Nevada County a few young, energetic and very stirring pioneers in the persons of lads from 10 to 15 years of age, always on the search for a few dimes to spend, or add to an already hoarded store, and the mountain air, with the wild surroundings, seemed to inspire them always with lively vigor, and especially when there was a prospect of a two-bit piece not far ahead.

In winter when the deep snow cut off all communication with the valley, our busy tinner ran short of solder, and seeing a limited supply in the tin cans that lay thick about, he engaged the boys to gather in a supply and showed them how they could be melted down to secure the solder with which they had been fastened, and thus provide for his immediate wants. So the boys ransacked every spot where they had been thrown, under the saloon and houses, and in old dump holes everywhere, till they had gathered a pretty large pile which they fired as he had told them, and then panned out the ashes to secure the drops of metal which had melted down and cooled in small drops and bits below. This was re-melted and cast into a mould made in a pine block, and the solder made into regular form. About one-third was made up thus in good and honest shape.

But the boys soon developed a shrewdness that if more fully expanded might make them millionaires, but in the present small way they hoped to put to account in getting a few extra dimes. They put a big chunk of iron in the mould and poured in the melted solder which enclosed it completely, so that when they presented the bright silvery bar to the old tinker he paid the price agreed upon and they divided the money between them, and then, in a secure place, they laughed till their sides ached at the good joke on the tinman.

In due time the man found out the iron core in his bar of solder, and thought the joke such a good one that he told of it in the saloon, and had to spend at least $5 in drinks to ease off the laugh they had on him as the victim of the young California pioneers. And these young fellows–some have paddled their own canoe successfully into quiet waters and are now in the fullness of life, happy in their possessions, while some have been swamped on the great rushing stream of business, and dwell in memory on the happy times gone by.

The older pioneers in these mining towns were, in many respects a peculiar class of men. Most of them were sober and industrious, fearless and venturesome, jolly and happy when good luck came to them, and in misfortune stood up with brave, strong, manly hearts, without a tear or murmur. They let the world roll merrily by, were ever ready with joke, mirth and fun to make their surroundings cheerful.

Fortunes came and went; they made money easily, and spent it just as freely, and in their generosity and kindly charity the old expression–“He has a heart like an ox” fitted well the character of most of them.

When luck turned against them they worked the harder, for the next turn might fill their big pockets with a fortune, and then the dream of capturing a wife and building up a home could be realized, and they would move out into the world on a wave of happiness and plenty. This kind of talk was freely carried on around the camp fire in the long evenings, and who knows how many of these royal good fellows realized those bright hopes and glorious anticipations? Who knows?

The names come back in memory of some of them, and others have been forgotten. I recall Washington Work, H. J. Kingman, A. J. Henderson, L. J. Hanchett, Jack Hays, Seth Bishop, Burr Blakeslee, Jim Tyler, who was the loudest laugher in the town, and as he lived at the Clifton House he was called “The Clifton House Calf.” These and many others might be mentioned as typical good fellows of the mining days. The biggest kind of practical joke would be settled amicably at the saloon after the usual style.

One day Jack Hays bought a pair of new boots, set them down in the store and went to turn off the miners supply of water. When he returned he found his boots well filled with refuse crackers and water. This he discovered when he took them up to go to dinner, and as he poured out the contents at the door, a half dozen boys across the street raised a big laugh at him, and hooted at his discomfiture. Jack scowled an awful scowl, and if he called them “pukes” with a few swear words added, it was a mild way of pouring out his anger. But after dinner the boys surrounded him and fairly laughed him into a good humor, so that he set up drinks for the crowd.

Foot races were a great Sunday sport, and dog fights were not uncommon. One dog in our camp was champion of the ridge, and though other camps brought in their pet canines to eat him up, he was always the top dog at the end of the scrimmage, and he had a winning grip on the fore foot of his antagonist.

A big “husky” who answered to the name of Cherokee Bob came our way and stopped awhile. He announced himself a foot racer, and a contest was soon arranged with Soda Bill of Nevada City, and each went into a course of training at his own camp. Bob found some way to get the best time that Bill could make, and comparing it with his own, said he could beat in that race. So when it came off our boys gathered up their money, and loaded down the stage, inside and out, departing with swinging hats and flying colors, and screaming in wild delight at the sure prospect of doubling their dust. In a few days they all came back after the style of half drowned roosters.

Bob had ‘thrown’ the race and skipped with his money before they could catch him. Had he been found he would have been urgently hoisted to the first projecting limb, but he was never seen again. The boys were sad and silent for a day or two, but a look of cheerful resignation soon came upon their faces as they handled pick and shovel, and the world rolled on as before.

One fall we had a county election, and among the candidates for office was our townsman, H.M. Moore, from whom Moore’s Flat secured its name. He was the Democratic nominee for County Judge, and on the other side was David Belden, he whom Santa Clara County felt proud to honor as its Superior Judge, and when death claimed him, never was man more sincerely mourned by every citizen.

The votes were counted, and Belden was one ahead. Moore claimed another count, and this time a mistake was discovered in the former count, but unfortunately it gave Belden a larger majority than before, and his adversary was forced to abandon the political fight.

In the fifties I traveled from the North Yuba River to San Bernardino on different roads, and made many acquaintances and friends. I can truly say that I found many of these early comers who were the most noble men and women of the earth. They were brave else they had never taken the journey through unknown deserts, and through lands where wild Indians had their homes. They were just and true to friends, and to real enemies, terribly bitter and uncompromising. Money was borrowed and loaned without a note or written obligation, and there was no mention made of statute laws as a rule of action. When a real murderer or horsethief was caught no lawyers were needed nor employed, but if the community was satisfied as to the guilt and identity of the prisoner, the punishment was speedily meted out, and the nearest tree was soon ornamented with his swinging carcass.

Many of these worthy men broke the trail on the rough way that led to the Pacific Coast, drove away all dangers, and made it safer for those who dared not at first risk life and fortune in the journey, but, encouraged by the success of the earliest pioneers, ventured later on the eventful trip to the new gold fields. I cannot praise these noble men too much; they deserve all I can say, and much more, too; and if a word I can say shall teach our new citizens to regard with reverent respect the early pioneers who laid the foundations of the glory, prosperity and beauty of the California of to-day, I shall have done all I hope to, and the historian of another half century may do them justice, and give to them their full need of praise.

As long as I have lived in California I have never carried a weapon of defense, and never could see much danger. I tried to follow the right trail so as to shun bad men, and never found much difficulty in doing so. We hear much of the Vigilance Committee of early days. It was an actual necessity of former times. The gold fields not only attracted the good and brave, but also the worst and most lawless desperadoes of the world at large. England’s banished convicts came here from the penal colonies of Australia and Van Diemen’s Land. They had wonderful ideas of freedom. In their own land the stern laws and numerous constabulary had not been able to keep them from crime. A colony of criminals did not improve in moral tone, and when the most reckless and daring of all these were turned loose in a country like California, where the machinery of laws and officers to execute them was not yet in order, these lawless “Sidney Ducks,” as they were called, felt free to rob and murder, and human life or blood was not allowed to stand between them and their desires. Others of the same general stripe came from Mexico and Chili, and Texas and Western Missouri furnished another class almost as bad.

The Vigilance Committee of San Francisco was composed of the best men in the world. They endured all that was heaped upon them by these lawless men, and the law of self protection forced them to organize for the swift apprehension and punishment of crime, and the preservation of their property and lives. No one was punished unjustly, but there was no delay, and the evil-doer met his fate swiftly and surely. Justice was strict, and the circumstances were generally unfavorable to thoughts of mercy. I was in San Francisco the day after Casey and Cory were hung by the Vigilance Committee. Things looked quite military. Fort Gunny-bags seemed well protected, and no innocent man in any danger. I was then a customer of G.W. Badger and Lindenberger, clothiers, and was present one day in their store when some of the clerks came in from general duty, and their comrades shouldered the same guns and took their places on guard. The Committee was so truly vigilant that these fire-bugs, robbers and cut-throats had to hide for safety.

Those who came early to this coast were, mostly, brave, venturesome, enduring fellows, who felt they could outlive any hardship and overcome all difficulties; they were of no ordinary type of character or habits. They thought they saw success before them, and were determined to win it at almost any cost. They had pictured in their minds the size of the “pile” that would satisfy them, and brought their buckskin bags with them, in various sizes, to hold the snug sum they hoped to win in the wonderful gold fields of the then unknown California.

These California pioneers were restless fellows, but those who came by the overland trail were not without education and refinement; they were, indeed, many of them, the very cream of Americans. The new scenes and associations, the escape from the influence of home and friends, of wife and children, led some off the dim track, and their restlessness could not well be put down. Reasonable men could not expect all persons under these circumstances to be models of virtue. Then the Missouri River seemed to be the western boundary of all civilization, and as these gold hunters launched out on the almost trackless prairies that lay westward of that mighty stream, many considered themselves as entering a country of peculiar freedom, and it was often said that “Law and morality never crossed the Missouri River.” Passing this great stream was like the crossing of the Rubicon in earlier history, a step that could not be retraced, a launching to victory or death. Under this state of feeling many showed the cloven foot, and tried to make trouble, but in any emergency good and honest men seemed always in the majority, and those who had thoughts or desires of evil were compelled to submit to honorable and just conclusions.

There were some strange developments of character among these travelers. Some who had in long attendance at school and church, listened all their lives to teachings of morality and justice, and at home seemed to be fairly wedded to ideas of even rights between man and man, seemed to experience a change of character as they neared the Pacific Coast. Amiable dispositions became soured, moral ideas sadly blunted, and their whole make-up seemed changed, while others who at home seemed to be of rougher mould, developed principles of justice and humanity, affection almost unbounded, and were true men in every trial and in all places. A majority of all were thus fair-minded and true.

Men from every state from New Hampshire to Texas gathered on the banks of the Missouri to set out together across the plains. These men reared in different climates, amid different ways and customs, taught by different teachers in schools of religion and politics, made up a strange mass when thus thrown together; but the good and true came to the surface, and the turbulent and bad were always in a hopeless minority. Laws seemed to grow out of the very circumstances, and though not in print, flagrant violations would be surely punished.

Some left civilization with all the luxuries money could buy–fine, well-equipped trains of their own, and riding a fat and prancing steed, which they guided with gloved hands, and seemed to think that water and grass and pleasant camping places would always be found wherever they wished to stop for rest, and that the great El Dorado would be a grand pleasure excursion, ending in a pile of gold large enough to fill their big leather purse. But the sleek, fat horse grew poor; the gloves with embroidered gauntlet wrists were cast aside; the trains grew small, and the luxuries vanished, and perhaps the plucky owner made the last few hundred miles on foot, with blistered soles and scanty pack, almost alone. Many of these gay trains never reached California, and many a pioneer who started with high hopes died upon the way, some rudely buried, some left where they fell upon the sands or rocks.

Those who got through found a splendid climate and promising prospects before them of filling empty stomachs and empty pockets, and were soon searching eagerly for yellow treasure. When fortunate they recovered rapidly their exhausted bodies to health and strength, and gained new energy as they saw prosperity.

Prospectors wandered through the mountains in search of new and suitable gold diggings, and when they came to a miner’s cabin the door was always open, and whether the owner was present or absent they could go in, and if hungry, help themselves to anything they found in shape of food, and go away again without fear of offense, for under such circumstances the unwritten law said that grub was free.

By the same unwritten law, stealing and robbery, as well as murder, were capital offences, and lawless characters were put down. Favors were freely granted, and written obligations were never asked or given, and business was governed by the rules of strictest honor. The great majority of these pioneers were the bone and sinew of the nation, and possessed a fair share of the brains. In a personal experience with them extending from early days to the present time I have found them always just and honorable, and I regret that it is not within my ability to give the praise they deserve. When a stranger and hungry I was never turned away without food, and my entertainment was free, and given without thought of compensation or reward.

In the chambers of my mind are stored up the most pleasant recollections of these noble men whose good deeds in days gone by have earned for them the right to a crown of glory of greatest splendor.

These noble souls who came here 40 years ago are fast passing away across the Mystic River, and those who trod on foot the hot and dusty trail are giving way to those who come in swiftly rolling palace cars, and who hardly seem to give a thought to the difference between then and now. Those who came early cleared the way and started the great stream of gold that has made America one of the richest nations of the world.

I have a suggestion to make to the descendants of these noble pioneers, that to perpetuate the memory of their fathers, and do reverence to their good and noble deeds in the early history of this grand State, there should be erected upon the highest mountain top a memorial building wherein may be inscribed the names and histories of the brave pioneers, so they may never be blotted out.

The Jayhawkers

The most perfect organization of the pioneers who participated more or less in the scenes depicted in this volume, is that of the Jayhawkers, and, strange to say, this organization is in the East, and has its annual meetings there, although the living members are about equally divided between the East and the Pacific Coast. As related elsewhere, February 4th is the day of the annual meeting, for on that day they reached the Santa Clara Valley.

It is greatly regretted that a more direct and complete account of the Death Valley experience of the Jayhawkers could not have been obtained for this work. To be sure it was from the lips of a living witness told in many conversations, but no doubt many striking incidents were left out. It is, however, a settled thing that these, and other individuals with whom he was immediately connected, were more intimately connected with the horrors of the sunken valley which was given its name by them, than were any other persons who ever crossed that desert region.

It will be considered that this was the most favorable time of year possible, and that during the spring or summer not one would have lived to tell the tale.

The Author, to his best, has done his duty to all, and concludes with the hope that this mite may authenticate one of the saddest chapters in the history of the Golden State.


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